It may seem like a low bar to cross for the many gamer fans that this latest iteration of Mortal Kombat delivers on the blood and gore. Proudly branding an R-rating, this film aims to showcase all the visual allure that made the games such a hotbed of controversy in the 1990s. So if you were hoping to see Sub-Zero create a frozen skin of himself or Scorpion breathe fire on his opponent, well, that’s in this film. Everything else surrounding these vicious showdowns, however, is enough to make one wish they were playing the game to skip through these cutscenes.
I wish the film had as much grit and strong staging as it does in its opening act. With the first scene taking place in 1600s Japan, we witness a brutal bout between the master-swordsman Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and the frost-wielding warrior Bi-Han (Joe Taslim). Their fight, loaded with blood and pathos, is a great scene and almost makes one believe they’re in store for a rousing samurai picture. Those hopes fade quick, however, when the film shifts to a text explanation of why the realm of Outworld wants to invade the Earth realm and that a tournament decides such a fate.
Too Many Characters, Not Enough Depth
Skipping ahead to the modern-day, Mortal Kombat follows a handful of characters who will be trained by the electric wizard Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) to train for such a tournament. His ragtag group of warriors includes the failed MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan), ex-special forces operative Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), the bitter and cynical mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson), the other special forces op of Jax (Mehcad Brooks), and the skilled martial artist Liu Kang (Ludi Lin).
They spend the majority of the movie training, learning that those endowed with some magical tattoo have the ability to summon great powers. Really, though, it’s a wild excuse to reason how Kano can shoot laser beams and Jax can have superpowered robot arms (even though that doesn’t sound as mystical).
While every character present seems to embody the look and special moves of the games, they severely lack in personality and character arcs. I’m not seeking a whole lot out of such a film but would it kill the script to give the characters a little depth? The only character who has any charm is Kano and it seems like he is established as a perfect story for redemption for fighting in the tournament.
But, nope, he’s just a sinister turncoat and nothing more! Cole’s love for his wife and daughter is lukewarm at best and his lineage tying back to Hanzo is so clunky that the third-act reveal of Hanzo’s return from hell comes off as a tired deus ex machina.
There are so many Easter eggs shoved into this script that the referencing becomes embarrassing after some time. Characters will spout lines from the game such as “Kano Wins”, “Fatality, and “Flawless Victory.” But they say these lines either with ridiculous earnest or tired attempts at seriousness, almost as if the actors really don’t want to be saying these lines.
There are a few times when characters will have to exclaim on how cool something is by declaring a discovery bad-ass but these lines feel so dead in the water with their delivery. If the characters are only mildly impressed with skin armor and being able to crush in skulls, why should we be all that impressed either?
There’s also so many awkward moments of trying to shove more characters into the film. Video game lore dictates that such characters Bi-Han and Hanzo are destined to become the masked warriors of Sub-Zero and Scorpion. Except they arrive at this point inexplicably, just showing up in the familiar garb one day and literally declaring themselves as Sub-Zero and Scorpion.
Mortal Kombat Reboot More Game Than Movie
Mortal Kombat feels far too much like it’s a checklist of pleasing the fans of the games than providing any substance for those watching it as a movie. But if that was really the mindset, the writing messed one huge part of that checklist: the tournament. You know, that major event every character talks about where the fate of the Earth hangs in the balance? Yeah, they don’t have time for that in this film. What you’ll get instead is an extensive prologue.
This film spends so much time introducing characters and fatalities that it doesn’t have time for much of anything else. This movie can’t even wait until mid-credits to showcase its sequel bait of Johnny Cage! Maybe he’ll be in the next Mortal Kombat film. Maybe the tournament will appear in the next film. Or maybe there won’t be another movie and you’ll feel about as cheated as the player who keeps spamming low kicks.
Check it out see for yourself. Mortal Kombat 2021 is now streaming on HBO Max.